Every new year it’s the same thing. We start out with good intentions, high hopes, and a formidable list of potentially life-changing resolutions. And for an indomitable few, those resolutions get carried through and result in a laundry list of transformational changes and positive outcomes by the end of the year.
But for most us, despite our very best intentions, life tends to get in the way. Before we know it, January is over and February flies by (it’s such a short month!). Then all the spring holidays come along. Then it’s summer, and…well, you know the rest. That pledge to “start tomorrow” just leads to the eventual realization that today is yesterday’s tomorrow and we haven’t even gotten out of bed yet. So, what can we do about it?
We can start today. For real. Right now. What we need to do is go from “resolutions” to “real solutions”! And one real-life solution that really works, is easy to do, and can kick-start us into action, is to start reading!
And my recommendation – if you are really serious about, and dedicated to, improving your life this year – is to start your New Year by reading any one of the following 17 inspirational and impactful books on this list.
My Selection Criteria
There are a million business and self-help books on the shelves, so why these?
Because these are all written for – and about – YOU. Each of these chosen selections is practical, actionable, and even, yes, pleasurable to read. While there is a time and a place for heavy academic research and serious business case studies, these selections are all relatively easy-to-read and intended for the single purpose of helping you to become the best “you” that you can be – in work and in life.
I read (and/or re-read) an average of 5-10 business books a month on topics ranging from management and leadership to teamwork and innovation. But the books on this list are more related to personal and professional productivity, and are intended to help you to discover your passion, figure out what makes you tick, overcome your obstacles, conquer your fears, and spur you to action. They’ll help you to get focused, more effectively manage your time, and provide you with a number of powerful and innovative ways to maximize your Performance, your Productivity, and your Potential (what I call the “Three Ps” of success).
Yes, I know you’re busy working. Or going to school. Or looking for work. Or all three. And you’re exhausted – physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. And it’s so much easier and more relaxing and fun to just kick back on the couch and binge watch back-to-back episodes of “Game of Thrones,” “Mr. Robot,” “The Walking Dead,” or “Orange is the New Black.” But if you’re really serious about making a change, and taking your career – and your life – to a whole new level this year, think about the potential ROI (Return on Investment) that making the time, and taking the time, to read just one – ANY ONE – of these books could potentially bring!
My 2017 List
While some of these title are newer releases, others are what I consider either recent and/or timeless classics. Every one of them (listed here in alphabetical order) have had an impact on me both personally and professionally, and are among my regular, go-to favorites that will, hopefully, “Educate, Engage, and Excite” you, as much as they did me. While most of the 50-plus new business books I read each year simply end up on the shelf afterwards, these are among the special few that I keep within arms’ reach for regular, repeated reference all year ‘round:
1) 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, The: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change (Stephen R. Covey): When people ask, “What’s the ONE book I should read to become more effective and productive?” this timeless bestseller is the one. At the very least, even if you don’t choose to read the whole book cover-to-cover, everyone should at least know what those seven habits are. (For your convenience, here they are.)
2) 18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done (Peter Bregman): If time management, prioritization, and personal productivity are a challenge, this new book by master storyteller, Peter Bregman, will help you get your life on track and start producing results. (See the Bregman Box on page 118).
3) 100 Tricks to Appear Smart In Meetings (Sarah Cooper): Is it more important to BE smart, or to APPEAR smart? This hilarious and entertaining illustrated book will help you to do both. While in some ways more of a humor book than a business book, there are real work-related observations and insights on every page. Disclaimer: If you don’t have a sense of humor or don’t find anything about work meetings to be in any way funny, you may want to just skip this one.
4) Art of Possibility, The: Transforming Professional and Personal Life (Rosamund & Benjamin Zander): Indescribably brilliant and inspirational storytelling by this husband and wife team. I re-read this book from cover-to-cover once a year. (Watch his famous TED Talks.)
5) Design the Life You Love: A Step-by-Step Guide to Building a Meaningful Future (Ayse Birsel): A beautiful, thought-provoking, interactive, and inspirational workbook that will take you on a journey of discovery by applying design principles to your own life. And if you ever have a chance to attend one of the author’s wonderful, life-changing workshops, I would highly recommend it!
6) Element, The: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything (Dr. Ken Robinson): When who you are and What you do are in alignment and harmony, you are “in your Element.” This book will help you get there. (His RSA animated video is a true classic.)
7) Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity (David Allen): If you are simply looking for a straight-forward, no-frills, systems-based approach to getting yourself organized, getting yourself moving, and getting things done, this is the number one book out there on the subject of personal and professional productivity. (Tons of tools on his GTD website.)
8) How to Win Friends & Influence People (Dale Carnegie): This, the first-ever “self-help” book, is the one that started it all. Written in 1936, this book has, literally, changed millions of lives worldwide. Now it’s your turn. The title says it all.
9) Linchpin: Are You Indispensable (Seth Godin): I absolutely LOVE this book by one of my all-time favorite thought-leaders. In today’s working world, we need to consistently find ways to add value and stand out in a crowd. This brilliant book will inspire you to overcome your “lizard brain” and create your own path to success. I’ve read at least 15-20 of Seth’s books; every one an innovation and an inspiration. This is the one that had the biggest impact on me. (For a taste of Seth's work, subscribe to his daily blog which will change the way you see the world on a daily basis.)
10) Mindset: How We Can Learn To Fulfill Our Potential (Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D.): This is the book that put the terms “growth mindset vs. fixed mindset” on the map, and shows us how understanding the important distinction can enable us to shift our mindset and unleash our potential…as well as that of others. A powerful and valuable resource for business people, teachers, parents, and everyone else.
11) One Piece of Paper: The Simple Approach to Powerful, Personal Leadership (Mike Figliuolo): What if you could capture, on a single sheet of paper, in meaningful maxims, your own personal guide to leading yourself, leading the thinking, leading others, and leading a balanced life? This creative and interactive book will help you do just that! (Full/proud disclosure: My “leadership self-awareness” guest post made his Top Ten list in 2012!).
12) Power of Habit, The: Why We Do What We Do In Life and Business (Charles Duhigg): Whether trying to break an old habit or start a new one, this book will help you transform yourself into the person you would like to be through gaining a better understanding of how habits work…and what it takes to break the bad ones and start some better ones.
13) Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (Susan Cain): Finally, someone has given us introverts a voice! This book (targeted both towards introverts AND extroverts) is the definitive work on what introversion is really all about. Also, check out Susan’s inspirational TED talk that put her on the map.
14) ReWork (Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson): Like Godin’s “Linchpin,” this book cuts through the crap and tells it like it is. Written with humor, attitude, and artistry, these guys get you to look at the world of work in a fresh new way.
15) What Got You Here Won’t Get You There (Marshall Goldsmith): One of my top ten favorite business books of all-time, this classic work reveals the twenty bad habits we need to break...and how to break them so as to become even more successful. I also highly recommend a number of his other titles including “Mojo,” and “Triggers: Creating Behavior That Lasts.” Also check out his website for numerous valuable videos and other generous resources.
16) You Don’t Need a Title to Be a Leader: How Anyone, Anywhere, Can Make a Positive Difference (Mark Sanborn): This quick-and-easy-to-read, 100-page book of simple stories will encourage and inspire you to step up to leadership – regardless of your role, position, or title. I love this powerful little book and re-read and reference it all the time.
17) You Learn By Living: Eleven Keys For a More Fulfilling Life (Eleanor Roosevelt): An inspirational work by an amazing woman who was way ahead of her time. Among the many life lessons she passes along in this powerful memoir is one of her most famous quotes: “You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face... You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”
So that’s it. Again, there are many other great books out there that can help you to increase your effectiveness, but as the wealth of options is seemingly unlimited and somewhat overwhelming, this list of personal favorites is intended to answer one of the most commonly-asked questions I get both from my coaching clients and from my students: Where should I start?
So just pick ONE and dive right in. You might even happen to have a few of the bestselling classics already piled up on your nightstand gathering dust, or sitting on your bookshelf. But remember that BUYING the book with the best of intentions – as so many people do – is not enough; you need to actually READ it to reap the benefits. That’s obvious and common sense. But, as the saying goes, “Common sense is not always common practice,” and industry research tells us that a large majority of business books purchased are never even opened, let alone finished.
As Harry Truman said, “Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.” So if you truly want to lead, you probably should start to read.
One Final Important Tip
After you finally sit down and crack the cover, don’t just skim through it: Really read it, devour it, interact with it, engage with it, absorb it, consume it, and make it your own. Business reading should not be a passive, but an active – and even an interactive – experience. Yes, that takes “work”; but you have to do the work if you want to reap the benefits:
- Highlight things you find interesting with a neon highlighter;
- Underline, circle, and/or color-code important points with a marker or pen;
- Make notes and draw pictures in the margins with your own thoughts, ideas, and questions;
- If there's a quiz or fill-in-the-blanks-type activity, actually do it;
- Use post-it notes to mark the pages you want to go back to later;
- Write key points (along with the corresponding page numbers) in the blank pages at the front of the book so you know where to find them later;
- Find a blank page in the back of the book and list your action Items – things you are actually going to DO as a result of reading the book! Think in terms of “Insights, Actions, & Outcomes”: What did you take away from what you read (Insights); What are you going to do now (Actions); and what results do you expect to achieve (Outcomes), if you actually put these new ideas into action.
If you’re really serious about turning your New Year’s “resolutions” into the “real solutions” mentioned earlier, I hope you will take me up on this challenge, pick up any one of these books, and dive right in. And let each book on this list be a spark that ignites your passion and inspires you to set the world on fire in 2017.
For some of my other top book recommendations (as if this list isn’t enough), please see:
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